I just saw “World’s End” again. It’s the third in a trilogy with Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It got mixed reviews. To me, the critics who didn’t enjoy it seem to have missed the overall message – which is quite clever and some food for thought.
At first blush, it’s just another “aliens taking over the planet” story like so many others. You have to examine it more closely after seeing it, to appreciate all the subtle nuances. It’s actually quite deep.
I will warn you again that there are spoilers here. If you haven’t seen the film, and you’d like to see it, please don’t read any further until after you’ve seen the movie. I don’t want to ruin your experience.
If you’ve scrolled down this far, first let me first say that I’m amazed you’re reading this. You must be very bored! Now please remember that below is my own personal take on the movie’s true meaning. Here’s what I think the overall statement might be. Others, even the filmmakers, may disagree.
Outline: The move is about five middle-aged men who used to be teenage pals in a small town. The ringleader (Simon Pegg), called Gary King, decides to get the gang together and go on a pub crawl called “the golden mile” – twelve pubs, twelve pints. His four friends are all married and professionally successful, while Gary is having trouble.
Along the way while doing this pub crawl, they begin to discover that most of the townspeople have been replaced by humanoid-like creatures which are physically identical, but which are very easily busted, yielding blue goo instead of blood. A few other people are still human, but they are hush-hush about what’s going on. The mystery deepens. As an aside, the characters discuss how the replacements which look like people are NOT to be called robots, because “robot” actually means “slave” and is therefore a misnomer.
When night falls, the replacements emanate blue light out of their open mouths. And they’re coming to get Gary and his pals.
Gary is determined to finish the pub crawl, however, despite all the dangers. At Pub #12, called “The World’s End”, the whole thing comes tumbling down. Two of their friends have been replaced – there are only three left. One of the three left, however, is missing. So we’re down to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Of course.
And then the movie gets into a plot device which some people don’t like: a narrator-like character explains everything. An unseen “head alien”, with a booming voice, explains the entire plot to Gary King and his buddy. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do, in the Hollywood-blockbuster genre. “Show, don’t tell!” admonishes the disappointed critic. You aren’t supposed to just explain it all like that. As one disgruntled viewer put it, you aren’t supposed to “just shove the message right into everybody’s face”.
The thing is, there’s a ton of sub-text, which is perhaps lost on the non-discerning viewer. The sub-text is so subtle and nuanced, it isn’t apparent until you’re finished watching, and you sit and think about it. Because while the movie is going on, you’re too distracted by the special effects and the characters to really get what they mean. So you have to think about it later. Perhaps there are people who don’t want to do that. They don’t want to have to think; hence, the disappointment from all those who didn’t like the movie.
Here’s what the booming, unseen head alien tells the two buds:
- There’s an inter-planetary association of civilizations, comprising the galaxy – and the other planets are very disappointed with planet earth. Humans keep killing eachother off, and overall, we’re very immature. The other planets are all “up here”, while earth is “down there” (the alien shows a diagram with the earth located well below the other civilizations).
- The other planets all want humans to improve themselves, and join the interplanetary association as equals. So, these aliens are here to improve us.
- The only “small sacrifice” necessary is that any humans who do not comply and refuse to improve, have to be destroyed and turned into mulch, replaced by identical units. But it’s a small price to pay, for all the advantages of joining the interplanetary association.
- The benefits that the aliens have brought to earth are very good and are in fact necessary, such as communications and all other technology. They get the credit for all of that.
Gary King responds with anger. He says, “All we humans want, is our freedom” and “Go back to your lego-land” and “Don’t come here and tell US what to do!”
The head alien asks if he speaks for all humans. Gary says that yes, he does. He knows that everybody else on earth feels the same way that he does – he’s a real human. All humans want is freedom. And nobody wants to be told what to do, especially not by a bunch of aliens who don’t even belong here.
The alien then says, “F__k it” and indicates that they’re leaving. They pull out. Everything explodes, then it all goes dark. In the end, all of earth’s technology is gone. Nobody can communicate with anybody else. Nobody knows how many people have survived. Planet earth is back to the dark ages.
Now, here’s the sub-text, at least from my point of view.
The aliens are total arseholes. They are, in fact, well below us, in all the important ways. They have no integrity whatsoever. Just because they’re clever and they know how to make technology, does NOT make them better than us. In fact, there’s ample proof that they’re much worse than the best of humans. And they’re about equal to the worst of humans. Here’s why.
- They’ve quietly embedded themselves all over our planet, allowing us to believe that we’re the ones who invented all the technology. We think it’s ours. But it’s apparently not. And they’re prepared to withdraw all the tech, if we don’t do exactly as they say. That’s nothing short of blackmail. It’s manipulation.
- They never told us that they’ve been here at all. They just quietly integrated themselves, without letting on. That’s completely dishonest.
- After integrating and embedding themselves with all their tech, while completely misleading us by hiding themselves, they give us a choice: “improve” yourselves, to the way that WE want you to be, or else, it will all go “kaboom” and you’ll be in the dark. Some choice! They’ve eliminated freedom completely and have backed the human race right into the corner. That’s aggressive.
- The worst part of all, is that they allow Gary King to speak for everyone. Gary King?! That’s not a fair process. He is not representative, and nobody else on the planet chose him. This means that these aliens have no concept of what “justice” means at all. Therefore, they’re the ones who are uncivilized. Not us. They don’t even know how to conduct a trial properly. Their methods are completely unfair.
- Finally, not only have they hid themselves and secretly backed the human race right into the corner, and then allowed Gary King to speak for the entire planet, they don’t even TELL him that if they go away, it will all explode and then go dark. They don’t even mention these consequences. They don’t give him all the information that he would need, in order to make an informed decision. They keep all the crucial bits of information from him and allow him to choose, without even realizing what he’s choosing. This is worse than unfair. This is amazingly corrupt. These aliens are complete jerks, even though apparently they are clever.
So, the upshot is, while you’re watching the movie, you become fooled. You think, oh no, Gary King blew it. He said the wrong things. It’s HIS fault the earth went dark. Wow, it might have been nice to join that planetary assocation – it sounds cool. But no. He blew it. Interesting – planet earth is still so primitive, while all the other planets are so advanced.
But then, if you think about it later, it’s THEM who are really the primitive ones. Look at everything the aliens have done, how they treat us. Even though the technology they “gave” us (while letting us think that it’s ours) is pretty neat, and has become necessary, they’re corrupt, dishonest, aggressive, unfair, and clearly they have no morals at all.
Conclusion? In this film, humans are, in fact, much better than the aliens. The planet is their victim. It was never Gary’s fault. The end.
(There are also biblical / religious overtones as well. The head alien, unseen with booming voice, smacks of what some people have as an image of God. This alien is about as nice, kind, and benevolent as the God of the Old Testament. As an aside, notice that the New Testament God is much nicer. Maybe the Gary King figure is supposed to be Jesus. This would mean that the filmmakers want us to think about this: what if Jesus actually tamed God, who was kind of a jerk, into being nicer? This could be the reason he was adopted as a “son” by the almighty. The fact that everything goes dark in the film, because Gary pissed off the head alien, is kind of like the great flood in the Noah story. Just food for thought there.)
P.S. I like how Simon Pegg wrote in a reason to show off his washboard abs. They didn’t go unnoticed 🙂